Category Archives: speaking

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Kaizen: Thinking about presentations

I’ve just finished a presentation (The ITSC Guide to Conference Awesomeness) and I’ve got a few presentations coming up:

  • Remote Presentations That Rock (Feb 28 in person at IBM, plus virtual sessions at IBM)
  • Braindump: Note-taking in Org Mode (GTALUG, in person)
  • Learning on the Network (virtual, IBM)

I also plan to experiment with Slideshare’s Zipcast feature, maybe doing “Remote Presentations That Rock”, “Six Steps to Sharing”, “The Shy Connector”, and other presentations.

There’s always room for growth. Thinking about that last presentation, what worked well?

  • The tech check turned up some problems communicating with the hotel conference room, so I decided to go with a recording instead. Not as fun or as interactive as a real-time presentation, but if I’m not going to be able to listen and react to people anyway, I might as well record it.
  • Sketching the presentation was fun.
  • EasyPrompter was a great tele-prompter. It was much better than scrolling through a document myself. I put the webcam in front of it. I might look a little cross-eyed, but it does speed up the production of recorded presentations quite a bit.
  • It was a good idea to record the video and then use Rehearse Timings to capture the slide times. Saving slide transition times meant that I could change the slides (move the graphics around, for example) and re-record the presentation using Camtasia Studio without listening to everything again and again.

How can I make things better?

  • I can work on relaxing my eyebrows when I give presentations. They tend to go up even during non-emphasized parts of the presentation.
  • I can add more pauses when teleprompting.
  • I can get dimmers for the lights we have, or better yet, construct some softbox-type light sources. They’re ordinary daylight-balanced house lamps from Home Depot and they can be pretty intense. I’ve draped ripstop nylon over them to create a softer light, but it would be better to have a good setup. If I can figure out how to mount them easily on the light stand (they currently use clips which can be hard to position), then I can use our light umbrellas.
  • I can use something like Blu-Tack and a tripod to position my webcam more firmly. Or maybe find/make a stand for my webcam to allow me to position it in front of my laptop. That should be easy to build.
  • I can look around for a better “studio” location. Maybe the spare room upstairs? I can cover the wall and the door with fabric, and set my lights.
  • I can try using my lapel microphone, or spring for an array microphone.
  • I can try using Windows Movie Maker for chroma-key or picture-in-picture, if I can’t get Camtasia Studio to behave the way I want it to. I got a black preview screen possibly due to hardware acceleration, but there doesn’t seem to be a way for me to disable hardware acceleration in Windows 7. Also, I couldn’t get the picture-in-picture to show up in the top right corner, so I had to settle for the top left.
  • I can buy or build a proper teleprompter. (Ooooh.) But I’m going to try building a rig for my webcam and laptop first – maybe this summer, when we get our woodworking tools out again. Can’t wait!

Things I’d like to grow into:

  • I’d love to animate my sketches instead of using picture-in-picture video. That might mean starting off with video (to help establish personal connection) and then switching to animation or sketches. If I get the hang of drawing in a single screen instead of on an infinite scroll of paper, maybe I can do it as a screen capture or whiteboard video.
  • I want to learn how to do chromakey video (or frame-by-frame sketching if I absolutely must). Imagine being able to combine video and sketching in ways that make sense…
  • I should organize my past presentations so that it’s easy for people to see the different topics and resources.
  • Maybe I can make a routine of presentations so that they’re a smooth and regular part of my life instead of being a bit bursty (it never rains, but it pours).

ITSC guide to conference awesomeness

Darren Hudgins liked my Shy Connector presentation a lot, so he asked me to put together some quick tips to share with the ~400 people at the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference. Here’s what I came up with:

ITSC Guide to Conference Awesomeness

They’re going to play it live at the conference at 12 PST. =) I’ve kept it short so that I can share a few quick tips and then get out of the way of all that awesome networking. It sounds like a great crowd.

If you’re here from the ITSC, you might also be interested in my sketchnotes from David Zach’s keynote. Click on the image to see the full version.


Here are other pre-ITSC conference networking tips I’ve shared:

For more networking tips, check out:

The Shy Connector
View more presentations from Sacha Chua.

(Also see my full notes for the Shy Connector presentation and other blog posts about connecting)

I made the video with the guide to conference awesomeness using Microsoft Onenote, Microsoft Powerpoint, a Lenovo X61 tablet PC, Camtasia Studio 7 (which doesn’t get along perfectly with the Windows 7 on my tablet). I’d love to go back to the free Inkscape drawing program for drawing if someone can help me figure out how to get it to smoothly digitize. =) Thanks to IBM for sponsoring this effort!

Follow me on Twitter (@sachac) for more updates. I’ll be around from 12 PM to 1 PM PST to answer questions or share other tips. Use the #itsc11 hashtag or mention me by adding @sachac to your tweet. If you’re here after February 21, feel free to leave a comment on this blog post for Q&A. Hope this helps!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Webinar: Energy, Interaction, and ROI

I’ve been invited to re-do my Remote Presentations That Rock presentation this February. I can’t resist improving presentations every time I give them. What do you think of this?

This presentation and speaker notes will be available at URL. (If giving this remotely: Please feel free to use the text chat to ask questions and share your thoughts throughout the presentation.)

Remote presentations are harder than in-person presentations, but they can also be more powerful. Yes, you’re limited in terms of body language and delivery. Yes, you have to compete with e-mail, Sametime, and a million interruptions. But if you know how to work with the strengths of remote presentations, you can reach people more effectively and more intimately.

Let’s talk about the biggest challenge for remote presentations: the fact that it’s so easy for people to get distracted or to walk away. In real life, most people won’t walk out the back door. They’ll stick around long enough for you to make your main points. Online, if you lose people’s attention, it can be very hard to get it back. And it’s doubly tough because you can’t read people’s body language. You can’t see if people are interested or if they’re off checking mail, and you can’t pull them back by saying something interesting if they’ve already hung up.

You’ve got to offer people something they can’t get from reading your the slides or listening to the recording. Why is it worth paying attention to you? For me, that comes down to two things: energy and interaction.


Why should people attend your presentation? People aren’t going to come just to hear the facts or numbers. They can get that from the slides. If you’re a leader, they want to hear your confidence, maybe get a better sense of who you are as a person. Even if you’re not an executive – even if, say, you’re an IT specialist presenting a technical topic – you’ve got to bring your energy to your presentation, to show people why it matters to you and why it matters to them.

A huge part of this is your voice. You need to sound like you, and you need to sound like the presentation is worthwhile. If people give in to the temptation to multitask, your voice is going to be the only thing that can bring them back. Emphasize your key points by changing your pace, changing your pitch, pausing, repeating things. Let your message come through in your voice. Energy. Urgency. Confidence.

You’ll be surprised by how much little things matter. Get a phone headset so that you can breathe properly and so that you don’t get a crick in your neck. Stand up if that helps you get into the “presentation mode”. Have pictures of people around if that helps you remember that you’re talking to real people so that you can make that connection. Turn off the conference entry/exit tones so that you aren’t competing with (or distracted by) beeps.

Another, powerful way to share your energy is to add video. Now you might be thinking, “I don’t look good on video.” While we may never look as polished as Sam Palmisano with a video crew, it’s actually easy to look decent. Get a webcam. Even if you pay for this personally, it’ll be worth it. Find a quiet place – no coworkers on conference calls, no dishwashers going whrrr. Find a clear background and good lighting – maybe a blank wall near a window. If you have glasses, dim the light from your laptop screen so that they don’t reflect off your lenses. White shirts make it easier for your webcam to pick the right colour-balance and exposure. Practice.

It’s a good idea to tell people when you’re going to be on video. I know someone who found this out the hard way. She was giving a presentation, and then her husband walked past in the background… in his underwear! So make it clear that you’re going to be on the air, and close the door. Then you can make a much better–and more professional–connection with people.

Video can bring you much closer to people than most in-person presentations can. Sure, you probably won’t be able to do as many gestures, but people can see your facial expressions. Use them. If you step back a little, you can do some gestures.

How can you bring all these tips together? Figure out what you want to say, but don’t stop there. Figure out why it matters to you and why it matters for other people. If you can’t figure out why something is worth giving as a presentation instead of as an article or a set of slides, don’t do a presentation. Just send the information. Save presentations for where presentations can make a difference – when you want to persuade people.

End on a high note. If you’ve done a good job at convincing people for the need for action – and you’re always doing this with a presentation, even if you’re just presenting information – make it easier for them to take action by showing them what they need to do next. Don’t fade out with just Q&A. Wrap up with a quick summary and maybe a memorable tip, and make sure people know what the next actions are. If you’re doing a remote presentation, think of websites people can visit to learn more or actions people can take to commit to doing something, while they still have the buzz and energy from the presentation. This means you need to plan your time well. People have back-to-back meetings and commitments. Plan to end a little early so that they have time to act on your message before they get distracted by something else.


This also means you need to get people’s buy-in along the way, so that when you get to the end of your presentation, people are where they need to be. This brings us to the second part of making remote presentations that rock: Interaction. Q&A. I’m not talking about the five minutes near the end that you think you’ll have for questions. You know that hardly ever happens. You run into technical difficulties. People start late. People take a while to think of their answers.

Don’t leave Q&A to the end of your presentation. Make it part of your presentation. If I have an hour for a presentation, I’ll typically plan between seven to twenty minutes of content, with the rest of the time for Q&A and about five minutes at the end to summarize and send people off with actions. This works really well. It forces me to fit my key points into a short attention span, and leaves room for the interesting part: the conversation.

How do I make sure things fit? I figure I should talk at about 160 words per minute. (I actually talk faster, but I try to slow down to 160.) If I’m planning for 20 minutes, then that’s roughly 3,200 words. If I write down what I want to say and I’m over 3,200 words, then I have to cut and simplify. Don’t start with the slides. Start with what you want to say, and make room for what’s important. If you’re trying to say too much, split it up into multiple presentations or refer to additional information that people can use to learn more.

Q&A can be much more powerful in a web conference than it is in person. In person, you’re usually limited to three or four questions. In person, people have to remember their questions and wait for the Q&A period, then line up for the microphone, say their question, and wait for your response. In person, you don’t really get a choice about which question you want to address first. Online, if you ask people to share their questions throughout the presentation using the text chat, you not only get an instant feel for where people are curious or confused, you can also pick the most interesting questions–or the easiest ones–to answer first. You don’t have to read people’s body language – they can tell you what’s on their mind.

When you’re starting out, you might want to have a moderator watch the text chat for you. If you find that you can occasionally glance at the text chat without getting distracted from what you want to say–and this takes a lot of practice–then you can even start weaving those questions and answers into the flow of your presentation. It’s fantastic when you can pull this off.

Q&A is good for people and it’s good for you. You can learn so much from Q&A. You can find out what’s important to people, and what you should include when you’re following up. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with lots of questions, some of which you might not even know the answers to yet. Great. That not only gives you opportunities to learn more, but also to share those lessons with others. We’ll talk about this again when we talk about radically increasing your ROI from presentations.

You can still have people ask their questions over the phone. Now this is important: you should wait at least seven seconds for questions before you move on. Maybe wait even longer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a conference call where the speaker said, “Any questions?” and then after a very short silence, says something like “Thank you, goodbye!” and I’m thinking, “I’m still coming up with questions I want to ask!” As a speaker, you should wait until the silence becomes uncomfortable, and then wait some more. It takes time for people to absorb what you’ve just shared and think of what else they want to learn. If you need to fill the silence, share some questions other people have asked you, or share some questions people might be thinking about.

When you’re speaking to an international audience, Q&A might be harder. People in some cultures aren’t comfortable with asking questions during presentations. You can get people used to the idea by starting off with typical questions people might ask, and encouraging people to share their questions through a text chat if they don’t want to use the phone.

If you really don’t get any questions, then you can share more examples and backup material. Flexibility pays off, and it shows that you know your stuff.

Radically increasing your ROI

Now you might be thinking that it takes time to prepare good presentations like that. It takes only a few minutes to throw together slides if you’re going to figure out what to say on the fly and you don’t mind if people forget or tune out. It takes time to plan your presentation so that you have a clear, concise, engaging core message. It takes time to prepare for Q&A. It takes time to learn how to use web-conferencing tools. But it’s a bigger waste of time if you don’t.

Presentations are surprisingly expensive. There’s the time you put into preparing it: maybe half an hour for a quick update, maybe four hours for a regular presentation like this, maybe days for a high-stakes presentation. There’s the time you spend giving the presentation. And then there’s the time people spend listening to you. Now I’m in Global Business Services, so utilization is always in the back of my mind. If I’m talking to a group of 35 people for an hour, I probably need to offer you more than $100 in terms of value, and I need to create more than $4,000 of value for IBM and our clients. Is it worth it? I want to make sure it is.

So let’s talk about radically increasing your ROI for presentations. When you’re preparing and giving presentations, how can you get even more leverage on the time and effort you’re investing? There are two parts to that: before and after your presentation. Let’s talk about what you can do before your presentation.

First: Figure out if you can get more people – and more of the right people – to get value from your presentation. It takes the same time to give a presentation to 20 people as it does to give a presentation to 200. Remote presentations make this even easier, because people don’t have to be in the same area and they don’t have to arrange for travel. They just have to dial in. This depends on the purpose of your presentation, of course. If you’re planning a small-group collaborative meeting, go ahead and keep it at six people. But if you’re sharing something of general interest, open it up. Post it on Inviter, which is this IBM service for sharing calendar events. If you’ve got a blog, write about your upcoming presentation. Post it on your Profiles board. Tell people about it. Make it easy for people to find.

Second: Share as much as you can while preparing. See if you can share your outline, your slides, your draft speech. If you’ve got a blog, write about your presentation there. I’ve been blogging my speaker notes and my slides on a blog. You’d think that would mean that people can skip the presentation because they already know the key points, like the way you might skip a movie if you already know how it ends. Instead, what happens is that people suggest ways to make the presentation even better, and then they come anyway for the energy and interaction. Result: better presentation, better interaction (because people have been thinking about things deeper), better reach, and better ROI. Share whatever you can share.

The same goes for after your presentation. When you’re giving a presentation that’s not confidential, make sure you record and share it. That’s one of the benefits of giving a remote presentation – they’re easy to record and share. It’s a few extra clicks using LotusLive Meetings, and then you can share your presentation with other people. Share your slides. Figure out if your presentation or a subset of your presentation can be shared externally. Take the extra five minutes to scrub it and share it on a site like Share your speaker notes. Share the questions people asked and your answers to them. It takes a few extra minutes and greatly improves your reach. When your presentations are shareable and searchable, they become a very powerful networking tool. And they’ll save you lots of time, too. I can’t tell you how often I refer people to my past presentations in order to help them learn something I’ve shared.

And this is where remote presentations can really help you rock. Work with the strengths of the webconferencing tools that we have, and you can really connect with people. Invest a few extra minutes to share your presentations and recordings, and you can radically increase your ROI. Use remote presentations to reach more people than you can bring together in a room, and that will pay off for you in professional and personal connections.

Here are seven small things you can do to improve the energy, interaction, and ROI of your remote presentations:

  • Get these slides or my speaker notes so that you can review them going forward. (URL)
  • Make your life better by sharing these tips with other people who give remote presentations.
  • Volunteer for a remote presentation if you don’t already have one on your calendar. Practice will help you learn.
  • Take a good look at your upcoming presentations and practice putting some energy into them. Make sure they’re worth listening to.
  • Get a webcam and learn how to use it well. Figure out where in your workplace or your home you can do a good presentation.
  • Cut your next presentation in half so that you can leave room for questions and answers.
  • Review your past presentations for things you can share, and share them.

We’ll come back to these tips five minutes near the end of this session so that they’re fresh in your mind. I want you to be able to walk out of here with a clear understanding of how you can apply these tips and how they can transform the way you present. What’s holding you back from giving better remote presentations? What do you want to learn more about?

2011-02-15 Tue 07:58

On presenting, anxiety, and moving forward

I have four presentations on my calendar, spread over the next two months. They’re all on topics I’ve written about: two talks on networking, one talk on presentation tips, and one talk on Emacs. I should prepare the presentations over the next two weeks.

I catch myself procrastinating. And if I’m going to procrastinate by tidying or writing, I might as well turn my reflections to why I’m procrastinating, so I can figure it out and fix it.

The advantage of having a blog is that I can review what I felt and thought before. For example, in one of my earliest blog posts about public speaking, I wrote that I wanted to become a professional speaker. This was why:

I love sharing ideas with people. I love bringing my enthusiasm and my passion to a hall and infecting as many people as I can. I love learning about presentation techniques and fascinating ideas. I love getting people to think. Besides, speaking is a great way to get to meet other fascinating people. I’ve made friends and learned about opportunities at post-conference dinners.

Reading that, I feel something dormant stirring. There’s something about sharing my passion and being inspired by other people.

There are more posts in my archive. I wrote about reaching people in the back row. I wrote about dealing with stage fright by turning presentations into conversations. I wrote about keeping things fresh and shared the feedback I’d gotten from presentations.

I can also see myself changing. In October 2009, after an occasion that really showed me the contrast between face-to-face presentations and the reach of online ones, I started thinking about how and when to decline invitations to speak. In March 2010, preparing for another presentation, I found myself reflecting on what I was missing from face-to-face presentations.

Maybe I can find a new equilibrium. I think it’s a combination of factors, and I’m going to think about them for a bit because it’s useful to understand a challenge before you use its force against it, turn it flat on its back, and tickle it into submission.

Higher costs lead to higher standards. With the shift of many presentations to virtual channels, the rise of blogs, Slideshare, and recorded presentations as alternative ways of sharing information, tighter travel restrictions at work, and a flourishing life at home, I’m much less inclined to travel to conferences myself. The relative opportunity cost has increased. I project my higher standards onto other participants, and become more anxious about delivering enough value to justify the time and expense.

As I get better at writing and occasionally illustrating my thoughts, I become more impatient with presentations. Presentations take more time to prepare and more time to deliver. They are not as searchable or as linkable as text. Their main benefits are that they are more engaging than plain text or static illustrations, and they can reach a different audience – people who prefer listening to reading, for example.

Unlike blog posts or stand-alone slide decks, presentations have deadlines, expectations, and potentially mixed reception. I can postpone writing about something, but I can’t back out of a commitment to speak. I promise something with the abstract and I’m not sure if I can deliver. If I write a blog post that offers little value to people, they can simply move on. If I give a presentation that people are too polite to walk out of, I not only take an hour of their life but make them miss the opportunity to hear a better speaker.

Then there are changing comparisons. In a world filled with TED and Ignite and all sorts of great talks available through Youtube, beautiful slides on Slideshare, and whatnot, it’s hard to put together something without feeling like a nattering newbie.

And now that I’ve got that all written down, I can see that it doesn’t make sense. The thing that trumps all of that hasn’t changed: I’m moved to speak and connect with other people because I want to help them make a change in their life and because I’m curious about what I can learn from them too.

I tell myself sometimes that I come up with presentations because other people ask me to, or because I want to learn about something myself. But even the things I already know–have struggled with, have come to understand, still continue to explore– those are already worth sharing.

I’ll experiment with a few changes. I’m going to try speaking with minimal or no slides, which will force me to be more vivid and memorable in speech. I may choose some topics to focus on, and see if invitations and speaking opportunities can align with those. I might illustrate if inspiration strikes, but not by default.

For my upcoming presentations, I just need to dig deeper and find the core message I have to share. With that, all the rest of the words and images will flow.

Writing about all of that seems to be working. I could hardly get to sleep last night thanks to all the presentation ideas running through my head…

Pre-conference networking tips for the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference

This is for . Thanks to Darren Hudgins for the nudge to make this!

Thoughts on speaking

I always ask why I let myself get suckered into preparing a presentation. I struggle with ideas, wrestling with them until I can make sense. I stutter and sweat in the spotlight. Why bother?

But I can’t deny that I enjoy presenting more than other people might. No, not the act of presenting. That’s the tuition I pay. I enjoy that struggle, the tangled thoughts turning into stories. Sometimes I propose talks on topics I don’t know much about because I’m interested in what we’ll find out along the way.

I don’t have any standard speeches. Everything has to be on the boundary, even the old talks people like and ask me to revise. I need to learn something new each time I speak. Sometimes it’s the delight of being wrong and of arriving at an better understanding.

A talk isn’t a talk unless I can make it a conversation. If it’s just going to be a speech, no questions, no answers, I may as well leave it as a blog post or a video. I want to learn from people. I feel like my talks with no discussions trail off in mid-air, interrupted by silence. Sometimes I need to prepare these kinds of questions myself – standalone presentations viewed by strangers, talks in constrained formats for fun and creativity. I want people to ask questions anyway.

Presentations are scary, but they’re a fun way to learn. So maybe I’ll give up on my one-talk-a-month constraint, which I sometimes didn’t follow because of work or interesting opportunities. I don’t want to travel for talks, because that takes too large a chunk of personal time (even the work trips do). I’m comfortable with virtual presentations, and people have told me that my energy and passion come through. If the cost for a presentation-worth of learning is an evening or two of focus, it’s a decent trade – especially if I can get lots of reuse and ongoing insights from it.